She would have done it. She would have kept her promise to kill him. Sango shuddered, chilled by how close it had come to that. As morning had dawned, its soft greys had revealed the horrors that had befallen them. She had watched the demon wrest control from Miroku little by little. In the end, it would have turned him into a vicious monster. The losing battle had been written all over his ashen face.
Miroku had stared steadfastly at the sky. Several times his beautiful violet eyes had flickered an evil black. The ghastly green lines had carved deeper into his skin. They had pulsated, injecting the monk with more potent poison. Sango had realized early on that Miroku had already been lost. She had readied herself to make that terrible killing blow.
The demon slayer would have made it quick. Sango would have deftly slit his throat---and then she would have plunged the blade deep into his heart. That sureness left her feeling numb now. If they hadn't arrived at camp when they had, she would have done it. As much as it pained her, Sango knew it would have broken her heart to lose Miroku to that vile creature.
It hadn't only been his eyes that had changed, after all. Little by little, she had watched the demon replace the monk. The flicker of what he would become had struck terror into her heart. The gentle expression, the playful glint, and the compassion that marked Miroku had been replaced by hatred, malice, and pure evil. Not even Naraku himself had made Sango this afraid. Given the chance, the demon would have inflicted devastation and suffering on an unparalleled scale. Sango could only imagine the nightmares it would have unleashed on everyone.
The demon had finally emerged when Kagome had entered the tent. Stealthily, Sango had slipped her father's blade into her sleeve. The moment she had dreaded had arrived. The demon had won. Miroku hadn't been able to contain its evil anymore. Sango knew it the moment his face had morphed into the grotesque beast. She would have to kill the only man she had ever loved.
And then a miracle had happened.
Kagome's power had not only subdued the evil creature---she had destroyed it. The miko had displayed the greatest spiritual power the demon slayer had ever seen. It had flared a brilliant rose---so bright that it had blinded. Kagome's strange gold eyes had exuded such raw power. Sango didn't know how Kagome had known what to do or to harass such strength, but she would be forever grateful. She had done the impossible. She had saved Miroku from being cast into the clutches of Hell.
Sango's lip trembled as fresh tears welled in her eyes. Shakily, she brushed Miroku's hair away from his forehead. The sheer vulnerability shaved years off of his care-worn features. Miroku's soft expression held peace. Sango believed she could watch the monk sleep forever. His head rested in her lap, his heavy weight anchoring her to reality. Sango hadn't lost him. He was here and safe in her embrace.
A tear streaked down her face unbidden. It fell, cascading down Miroku's cheek as if he cried with her in his sleep. Sango watched its glittering track in the low lamplight. Soon, others followed the same path. The demon slayer sobbed as the dam within crumbled. Her body heaved from the force of her tears.
Sango asked hoarsely, “How could you ask that of me? How could you?”
The demon slayer scrubbed a hand over her face before gripping her hair in a tight fist. Her lip trembled and she sunk her teeth into its tender flesh. Her bleary eyes darted around the dim tent, feeling its thin walls close in. An agonized wail tore from her throat as Sango slammed a fist into the hard ground.
“How could you! You selfish bastard!” Sango hugged herself. She rocked slowly, the hot tears flooding her cheeks. All the adrenaline from the night before ebbed away, leaving the demon slayer empty. “How could you do this to me?”
In that moment, Sango knew that she wouldn't have been able to forgive herself if she had done it---and that she wouldn't have been able to forgive Miroku for asking her to do it.
“You had no right to ask that of me!”
Miroku stirred, his head tossing from side to side. Crinkles creased his forehead. His breaths came in quick and shallow wheezes. His eyes popped open wide, glazed with panic. He thrashed weakly, trying to scramble away. Harshly, Miroku whispered, “No! I won't let you do this! No! Stop!”
Sango jolted from her emotional outburst. She grasped his shoulders gently. “Monk, it's okay. You're safe now.”
“No!” Miroku bucked against her grip. A pained grimace marred his features. The whites of his eyes flashed as they darted around the tent. He panted harder the longer he fought to escape. “No! You can't have her! No!”
“Monk,” Sango called out sharply. “Listen to me. You're safe. I'm safe. Can you hear me?”
“She's---she's too beautiful for your evil,” Miroku whispered. His cursed hand shot up, weakly pushing her shoulder. It trembled from the effort. “Stop! I won't let you! I'll die first! I'll pull us into the Wind Tunnel first! No!”
Sango squeezed her arms tighter around him. Smartly, she slapped one of his cheeks. The blow that normally made the monk giddy ignited his panic. Miroku screamed hoarsely, flailing as he fought her tight embrace. He kicked, his feet scrambling to find purchase. Sweat broke over his brow. The monk lunged forward, nearly slipping from her grip.
Miroku seized, his eyes rolling back into his head. His body bent as his back arched. In the span of a heartbeat, the monk went from being stiff to convulsing. It took everything in Sango to hold him down. She struggled to slip the leather in between his teeth. Miroku spasmed, his legs kicking wildly. White foam dribbled down his chin. His eyes fluttered as the seizure crescendoed.
Just as Sango began to cry out for help, the monk fell limp against her. His breathing slowed, his jaw unclenched, and his eyes fell closed.
Sango slumped, cradling Miroku close. She plucked the pulverized leather from his mouth, his teeth-marks clearly visible. Not for the first time, gratitude swelled in her heart that she had had the foresight to keep the old sheath for her father's blade handy. The demon slayer set it next to them, keeping it ready in case he seized again.
Sango gently wiped the spittle away. She bent down and kissed his temple. She whispered, “No one will take me away from you. I promise.”
The demon slayer adjusted Miroku, leaning his back against her chest. She eased her arms around him, holding him securely. She rested her chin on his shoulder. Sango became still, zeroing in on her breathing. Painstakingly, she slowed it, her entire focus on taking long, deep breaths. On each long exhale, she rubbed one of his shoulders, trying to channel calm into his battered body.
Sango listened to their breathing. Slowly, the demon slayer slid her hand over his white inner robes. She splayed her palm wide over his heart. It pulsed, assuring her of his life. It raced, the fluttering an uneven beat. Sango pulled him even closer, feeling their hearts start to pulse in concert. She heard the moment they synchronized, and they breathed as one.
They sat like this in silence, simply existing. Sango had never felt closer to Miroku. This had nothing to do with their unusual courtship. This intimacy existed outside it, and Sango would forever treasure it. Time slowed. The cares of the previous night melted away. They were together. That was all that mattered.
“Sango---,” Miroku whispered, his voice raw. “I'm sorry.”
Sango tensed. She asked softly, “For?”
“I should never have asked that of you,” Miroku answered. He sighed, the sound forlorn. “It was too much to ask.”
Miroku shifted, glancing over his shoulder. Guilt etched its way across his features. A haunted look filled his eyes. His teeth worried at his bottom lip. As if eye contact pained him, Miroku flicked his gaze away.
“If not for Kagome---,” the monk let the sentence dangle. The horror of the alternative loomed above them, still too fresh and too real.
“I would have done it,” Sango whispered. “To save you from that---I'd have done it.”
Sango buried her nose into his hair. She hugged him tighter, never wanting to let him go. Coming this close to losing him had shifted something buried deep inside. Tenderly, Sango kissed his cheek. The monk turned his head, capturing her lips in a chaste kiss.
“I know.” Miroku looked down a pained frown on his face. “It's why I asked you---even if it was far too heavy a burden to ask you to carry.”
Sango blinked back fresh tears. She rocked them, swaying side to side. “But I didn't have to.” She tucked some of his unruly hair behind an ear. “You're safe. You're alive. That's all that matters now.”
“Come now.” The monk chuckled before coughing. “You were angry. I know you were. You can't fool me.”
Sango gritted her teeth, her earlier anger bubbling beneath the surface. It flashed through her at his carelessness with the Wind Tunnel. It seethed at the compromising position he had placed her into. That was before he had had a seizure and had been ambushed by a terrible nightmare---the remnants of the demonic possession that nearly stole him forever. In its wake, Sango's anger had melted away. Even so, Sango realized the futility in lying. Somehow, Miroku always knew how to read her.
“Fine. I was. I was furious.” Sango rubbed his shoulder. “But it doesn't matter now.”
“It does.” Miroku grunted as he sat up. The monk turned towards her, his head bowed. “Sango, I don't want any resentments between us. I asked something terrible of you and for that, I am truly sorry. I won't say it was entirely wrong because I had no other choice. I just want you to know how grateful I am that you would do it. I wouldn't have blamed you if you had. You need to know that.”
“What's happened has happened.” Sango placed a hand atop his gauntleted fist. “Besides, I know you would have done the same for me if situations had been reversed.”
Miroku sighed softly, his hand grasping hers. He interlaced their fingers, giving it a squeeze. “May we never have to find out.”
Sango bit her lip, her thumb rubbing over his prayer beads. Slowly, she lifted her eyes, meeting the monk's. The guarded shadow in them bothered her. She had become so accustomed to their open honesty. Now, Sango feared what he hid from her. A barrier erected between them as Miroku held her at arm's length.
Sango tensed, trying to extract her hand. “Monk, you're hiding something. I can see it in your eyes.”
Miroku looked away. “I don't think I should speak of it.”
Sango's temper flared. She snatched her hand away, crossing her arms. She refused to let him build walls between them. After all, walls could get them into bigger trouble next time. If he faced something, she would face it, too. If Sango truly wanted to be with him and he truly wanted to be with her, there's nothing they wouldn't face together.
“No secrets, monk.” Sango jutted her chin out in defiance. “I mean it. Tell me now. After what you asked of me, I think it's only my right to know. You owe me that much.”
“I suppose that I do.” Miroku shifted, clenching his cursed hand against his side. His lips drew into a tight line. As a hush settled, Sango feared he may never divulge this secret. Quietly, Miroku said, his voice resigned, “I'm envious, Sango. I felt that keenly last night. Immobilized as I was, I couldn't help the jealousy I felt at Silk and Velvet's seemingly effortless relationship. I want that for us more than you'll ever know---and yet this stands in my way yet again. What happened last night---what could have happened tonight---it all starts and ends with this.”
The monk held up his gloved hand, flexing it as if the Wind Tunnel had been unfettered. He clenched it closed, pulling the hand to his chest.
“I do not fear the Wind Tunnel, monk.” Sango moved to sit closer to Miroku. She hesitated when he flinched away. “Monk?”
A bitter chuckle bubbled from his lips. He lifted his head, the fear in his eyes startling. “You should.”
“I only fear what it does to you,” Sango whispered.
“Well, perhaps I deserve this curse.”
Alarm bells rang in her mind. Sango gently squeezed his shoulder. She glanced up into his crestfallen face. The demon slayer gripped his cursed hand and interlaced their fingers. She cupped his face in her other hand, brushing a thumb across his cheek. He stiffened, his shoulders hunching and his breath hitching.
“You're wrong.” A tear streaked down Sango's cheek. “You don't deserve this curse. I hate what it's doing to you. It's tearing you up, and you need to tell me what you're hiding.”
“Sango---,” Miroku whispered. He bit his lip, blinking back tears. “I---I can't. It'd make it real.”
Miroku extracted his hand from hers. He folded in on himself, his head bowed. The monk had never looked so broken and defeated. The shattered expression on his face devastated the demon slayer. This secret---this ordeal with this demon---cut Miroku deeply. Kagome may have saved him, but he still could be lost forever. Sango had never hated the Wind Tunnel more.
“The Wind Tunnel only comes between us if you let it.”
“I want to believe that more than you'll ever know.” Miroku scrubbed his hand over his face. “I wish it could be that easy. I was ready---and then the demon---,”
“What about it?”
“It---,” Miroku laughed, the sound forlorn. “It proved to me that I am truly unworthy of you. My---perverted behavior---it put you in danger. The demon only had that power because that darkness was already there. It would have done such evil---,”
Sango gasped. “Monk, what are you saying?”
“The demon---,” Miroku paused, clearing his throat. He took a long, shuddering breath. “The demon would have used---my body---to rape you.”
A heartbreaking sob tore from Miroku's throat. He wept bitterly. His shoulders shook from the force, and the monk crumpled before her, anguish etched across his pale face.
He whispered, his voice hitching on the words, “It almost did.”
Sango gasped, stunned. Fear curled in her stomach at this revelation. No wonder the monk hadn't wanted to speak of it. She clasped her hands tightly, rubbing the knuckles together. Her heart raced, its rhythm thrumming in her head. How could she absorb this? Her limbs tingled, warning her to flee.
Glancing towards Miroku, the agony written all over his face blunted this need. Tears flooded down his cheeks. Horror filled his violet eyes. Sango yearned to comfort him. Gently, the demon slayer pulled her to him, kissing his temple. She stroked his hair, tucking the soft strands behind an ear. Slowly, she rocked them, letting the wave of emotion crest.
Softly, Sango said, “I've got you.”
Miroku threw his arms around her, sobbing openly. He trembled in her embrace. The strong and intelligent man that Sango loved had been reduced to this. The demon had broken him with this. Miroku clung to her, his nose buried in her hair. Each wretched keening stabbed exquisitely into Sango's heart.
A new fear flared to life within her. This might drive a permanent wedge between them. Miroku may push her away forever after this. Sango knew the monk well enough. For all of his lewd behavior, for all of his bad habits, she found his nobility to be his worst flaw. In the name of keeping her safe, the monk would deny them their happiness.
Sango refused to let that happen.
“I don't care. It didn't happen. That's all that matters now.” Sango ran her hands on his back in soothing circles. “You can only hide behind the Wind Tunnel for so long, monk.”
Miroku rasped, “I don't want to anymore, but---,”
“Then don't.” Sango kissed his forehead. “I accept the risk it brings.”
The monk stiffened in her embrace. Weakly, he tried to pull away. “But the demon was right. I'm not good enough for you. My behavior---my perverted thoughts---you've always been right to punish me for them. I sully you---,”
“Sully? You can't be serious.” Sango snorted. “You've never sullied me, monk. You've tested my patience. You've been highly inappropriate. But sully? Never.”
“But all those unwanted advances---,”
“Who said they were unwanted?”
Miroku sucked in air, his tears abating. His nose wrinkled in confusion. The expression made him all the cuter. “Well, I'd say your fist did the talking. It said it pretty clearly. It was right to do so, too.”
“And yet you never learned.” Sango threaded her fingers through his loose hair. “You also know that I went easy on you, monk. We should spar sometime. Let me prove that I can protect myself if necessary. Yes, even from your roaming hands.”
Miroku sighed. “I have no doubts of your prowess, but it doesn't change the fact that my hentai tendencies have sullied your honor.”
Sango gripped his shoulders, holding him in place. She searched his desperate eyes. “Look. Do I find it annoying that your cursed hand endlessly tries to grasp my rear? Absolutely. Your poor attempts at courtship have been just that: poor attempts. But to say that I've not wanted them is a lie. You are the first man I've ever met that's truly tried to see me---not just as a demon slayer or just a woman. You've seen me as Sango. So you've been rather crass about showing it. So what. For every time you've grabbed my rear, you've done something thoughtful like the new scabbard for my Father's knife. And you should know, Miroku, I want you, too. I always have, and I just didn't want you to know.”
Miroku surged forward, his mouth claiming hers in a soft kiss. He brushed his cursed palm across her cheek, cupping her face. His tongue pushed into her mouth, tangling with hers as he deepened it. There was such love in the action---and the slayer felt the moment he surrendered. She looped her arms around his neck, tangling her fingers into his dark hair. Soon, Sango dominated the kiss.
As he pulled away, Miroku rested his forehead against hers. Shyly, he smiled. “I---I love you, Sango. I know it's asking a lot of you, but I don't want to wait anymore. I want to be with you---only you---with no ambiguities. I'm just a humble Buddhist monk with nothing to offer. All I have is my heart if you'll have it.”
Sango gasped. Her eyes searched his, finding truth. Miroku's gaze laid bare everything in his heart. She saw love, trust, fear, and hope all swirling in their violet depths. This man had risked everything, and now she had to decide if she should accept. This man---the same that had vexed and tested her---had been all she had ever wanted.
“Yes,” Sango said. “I love you, too, Miroku. What you're offering---it's the only thing worth having.”
Miroku chuckled, the sound relieved. “I hoped you'd say that, my dear Sango. It would have been awkward otherwise.”
He kissed her, this time, slow and sweet. His arms tangled with hers as he explored her mouth. Sango moaned softly, yielding to his kiss. His hands trailed down her sides, moving to cup her rear. The demon slayer jolted at the sensation of him squeezing the soft flesh. He peppered her throat with kisses, and Sango tilted her head, granting him better access.
A tap on the tent flap startled them. They broke apart, sitting with their backs to one another. Shyly, they exchanged glances over their shoulders. Polgara peeked in, glancing from one to the other. One of her thin eyebrows arched as a knowing smile crossed her lips.
“How are you feeling, Miroku?”
Miroku rubbed the back of his neck. “Much better, Lady Polgara. Thank you.”
“Glad to hear it.” She knelt down, turning his head this way and that. The sorceress placed a hand on his forehead. A deep frown crossed her face, lines crinkling her forehead. “You still need lots of rest. These shadows under your eyes tell me that much. You're also running a mild fever. I'm guessing everything feels heavy. You're exhausted. You'll need a tonic and some restorative sleep.”
“I'm fine, truly---,” Miroku protested. A wide yawn overcame him, and he wobbled a moment. “I am.”
“You're fine, my foot. I'll bring you some supper.” Polgara replied matter-of-factually. “And then it is straight to bed, young man. No arguments.”
“Yes, Lady Polgara.”
Beldin peeked inside, a grin splitting his grotesque features. He winked at Sango. “You done coddling the monk? Mind walking with me a moment, little girl? Give Pol a moment to give him the once over, don't y' know?”
Sango bit her lip, glancing towards Miroku. Worry twisted her gut at the thought of leaving him. What if he needed her? What if he had another seizure? What if he broke down again? The demon slayer looked down. “I don't know---,”
“He'll be fine. Pol will make sure of it. I only need a few minutes, Lady-O,” Beldin said softly. “You'll be back before he's had a chance to miss yer lovely face.”
“Go on, Sango. I'll be fine,” Miroku encouraged.
The pair entered the twilight. The hunchback stumped ahead, his gnarled hands brushing the ground. Sango trailed behind him, casting anxious looks towards the tent. The cool air brushed her cheek, causing her to shiver. The darkness encroached, leaving Sango claustrophobic.
Beldin stopped in a small clearing. “How are you, little girl?”
“The monk seems to be recovering after what happened,” Sango replied, her eyes cast towards the ground.
“Not what I asked,” Beldin said gently. “I want to know how you're doing.”
“I---,” Sango's lip trembled as she fought the sting of fresh tears. Heat flooded her cheeks. “I don't know.”
“That's okay.” Beldin gently pulled her into a hug. “It's been a hard couple of days. Just because we're back at camp doesn't mean I'm done keeping an eye on you, little girl.”
Sango hugged him back. This deformed, crass man had such a large heart, and she felt so overwhelmed by his compassion. His stocky form anchored her as the storm surged inside her. Sango clutched his tunic.
“I know what the monk asked. It's why I wanted to check on you.”
“That's a start.” Beldin kissed her temple. “Of what?”
Sango sobbed softly, tucking her face into his shoulder. She whispered, “Losing him. Why doesn't he care about himself?”
“All he sees is his curse, little girl,” Beldin sighed. His rough palms rubbed circles on her back. “And I get it. Sometimes all I see is this hideous body and how everyone sees me.”
“But he's more than that.” Sango lifted her head, looking into his deformed face. “You are, too.”
Beldin smiled. “Tis nice of you to say.”
“I'm angry.” Sango took a deep breath. “How could he ask me to do that? I understand why, but I---I don't want that weight. Doesn't he get that? I want---I need to save him. He should want that, too.”
“I know. You have to give him time to learn that.” A rueful chuckle escaped the dwarf sorcerer. “It's taken me thousands of years to learn it. I still haven't. I didn't believe my brothers loved me until all of them pitched in to make my tower. A little bit of them all is in it. The grace. The beauty. The intelligence. It is a testament that I matter to them. You'll find something like that to convince that blockhead of a monk that he's worth it. I know you will.”
“I hope so.” Sango clutched his tattered tunic. All the fear, sorrow, panic, joy, and relief rushed out of her as she wept. The weight that Miroku had placed on her shoulders lifted. For the first time, the demon slayer could appreciate that they had made it back because of this man.
“Thank you,” Sango whispered. “We---we wouldn't have made it without you. I'd hate to think---,”
“Sh. Don't,” Beldin said, a strong hand rubbing her back. “What happened, happened. It'll be awhile before it's in the past. I want you to know that if you ever need to talk, I'm here.”
“Don't stop loving him. Be patient, little girl. For every step forward he takes, I expect the monk to take two steps back for awhile. He may not be possessed anymore---but that demon is still with him. It may be that way for the rest of his life.”
Sango nodded. “I'll try.”
“I know you will.” Beldin cupped her face in a large hand. “Just don't forget to take care of you in the process. Yer too pretty t' let yerself fall by the wayside, don't y' know?”
Sango giggled. “I'll keep that in mind.”
They pulled apart, the sorcerer rubbing her shoulder. “I mean it. I'm here whenever you need me to listen.”
“Thank you, Beldin.”
“Just don't go advertising that.” Beldin winked, a wide smile on his hideous face. “I have a reputation to uphold, after all. I may even manage to teach you some great insults before too long.”
“I wouldn't dare sully your reputation.” Sango laughed. “You earned it with those wanted posters.”
“That I did.” He glanced her, his eyes appraising. “Now, little girl, if you're hoping to make that bottom of yours wider, I suggest you go and eat Polgara's supper. Start taking care of yourself by eating well. Besides, I've noticed that your monk seems to like flabby behinds.”
A scarlet blush painted her cheeks. “Beldin!”
“That'd be my name, little girl. Don't use it in vain.” He gently pushed her. “Go on. He'll worry if you're not back before too long.”
Sango kissed his cheek. “Thanks for everything. We can't thank you enough.”
“Your happiness is reward enough.”